New Year, New Music: January Concerts in Seattle

by Maggie Molloy

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Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

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Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and tag it with “new music.”

Program Insert - January 2018

 

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electroacoustic music, and sonic experiments. This month: vintage sampling keyboards, avant-garde noise, graphic scores, and etudes from the likes of György Ligeti and John Cage.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Symphony: Ligeti Violin Concerto
Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich joins the orchestra for a performance of György Ligeti’s stunningly virtuosic Violin Concerto. Also on the program: Stravinsky’s long-lost Funeral Song and Mozart’s sublime Symphony No. 39.
Thurs, 1/4, 7:30pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74
Sat, 1/6, 8pm, Benaroya Hall | $22-$74

Paper Puppet Opera: Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’
One of the darkest works in the classical canon is reimagined through bleak shadow puppet abstraction in this Schubertiade-meets-puppet-show spectacular. Baritone David Hoffman and pianist Peter Nelson-King join the Paper Puppet Opera for a shadow puppet performance of all 24 songs in Franz Schubert’s Winterreise.
Fri, 1/12, 7:30pm, Trinity Parish Hall | $25
Sat, 1/13, Trinity Parish Hall | $25

Jesse Myers: To Sober and Quiet the Mind
Seattle pianist Jesse Myers presents an evening of introspective solo piano works from the masters of time and space—Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, John Cage, and more. Forgo the chairs and bring a pillow or mat for the ultimate musical meditation.
Fri, 1/12, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Bern Herbolsheimer Musical Memorial
In celebration of the late Bern Herbolsheimer’s life and music, the St. Helens String Quartet and local soloists come together to perform a selection of his chamber works.
Sat, 1/13, 5pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | FREE

Second City Chamber Series: Just Us Folks
The Carpe Diem String Quartet performs chamber works inspired by folk music from every corner of the world, featuring music by Erberk Eryilmaz, Vittorio Monti, Lev Zhurbin, Dave Brubeck, and more.
Fri, 1/19, 7:30pm, Annie Wright School, Tacoma | $10-$25

SCMS Winter Festival
Seattle Chamber Music Society’s annual Winter Festival features a variety of classical music performances from across the centuries, including 20th century works by Amy Beach, Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich, William Walton, and Edward Elgar.
1/19-1/28, Various times, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $16-$52

Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival
This brand new music festival touring through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene features contemporary music by the likes of Julia Wolfe, Andy Akiho, Andrew Norman, Steve Reich, and Lou Harrison, among others. Featured performers include Ashley Bathgate, the Sandbox Percussion Quartet, the Iktus Duo, and more.

Delgani String QuartetFri, 1/19, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Orlando CelaSun, 1/21, 3pm, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center | $20
Hub New MusicMon, 1/22, 7:30pm, 18th & Union | $20
Iktus DuoThurs, 1/25, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $20
Sandbox PercussionSat, 1/27, 7pm, Music Center of the Northwest | $20
The City of TomorrowTues, 1/30, 7:30pm, The Royal Room | $20
Ashley BathgateThurs, 2/01, 8pm, Rainier Arts Center | $20

NUMUS Northwest 2018
This day-long event is dedicated to the creation, performance, and experience of new music in Seattle and beyond. Musicians, composers, and curious bystanders alike come together for a day of live performances and interactive presentations on topics ranging from fundraising to networking, media pitching, grant writing, and more.
Sat, 1/20, 8:30am-9:30pm, Cornish Kerry Hall | $20

SMCO: Journeys of Discovery and Hope
Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra performs Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Mixing elements of Western classical with Andean folk music traditions, the piece draws on the concept of mestizaje: where cultures can coexist without the subjugation of one by the other. Also on the program is Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times.
Sat, 1/20, 8pm, Plymouth Congregational Church | $15-$25

Third Coast Percussion: ‘Paddle to the Sea’
Third Coast Percussion performs their own live score in this special screening of Paddle to the Sea, a Canadian film which illustrates the epic journey of a young boy’s small wooden boat from Northern Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Third Coast’s film score weaves in music by Philip Glass and Jacob Druckman, along with traditional music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.
Thurs, 1/25, 8pm, Meany Theater | $28-$44

Erin Jorgensen: Bach and Pancakes
It’s Bach like you’ve never heard it before—on marimba! Erin Jorgensen performs a marimba arrangement of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor, followed by a pancake breakfast.
Sun, 1/28, 10am, Studio Current | $5

Pacifica Chamber Orchestra: Sunshine Concert
From scherzos to serenades, the Pacifica Chamber Orchestra performs 20th century works by Dag Wirén, Julius Fučík, Eugène Bozza, and more.
Sun, 1/28, 3pm, First Presbyterian Church, Everett | $15-$20

Music of Remembrance: Art from Ashes
Music of Remembrance presents a free community-wide concert to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring chamber music written in Terezín and in the Vilna ghetto, plus works by composers whose lives were cut short by Nazi persecution.
Mon, 1/29, 5pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | FREE

Second Inversion’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

From Icelandic sound sculptures to pan-global jazz, found sounds and field recordings to sprawling, city-wide operas, 2017 was filled with some pretty incredible new music. As this year draws to a close, our Second Inversion hosts take a look back at our Top 10 Albums of 2017:

The Industry and wild Up: Hopscotch (The Industry Records)
Release Date: January 13, 2017

Hopscotch is by far the most inventive, labor-intensive, and meticulously designed work of the year. Live performances of the opera take place in 24 cars on three distinct routes, stopping at various locations-turned-performance spaces throughout Los Angeles. It involves everything from animated sequences exploring themes of identity and community to hearing star musicians perform in the car with you as you ride to your next unknown destination. The album recording is just as expansive, inviting the listener to experience the musical narrative in a non-chronological order, with multiple singers forming a composite of each character’s identity.

Intentionally disorienting, surprising, and overwhelming, artistic director Yuval Sharon and his team at the Industry have created an absolutely immersive experience—and audiences have been blown away. – Brendan Howe


yMusic and Son Lux: First (Communal Table Records)
Release Date: February 17, 2017

Something I hear frequently said about new classical music, from detractors and fans alike, is that it’s hard to listen to. First is a decidedly “new classical” album that does not fit into that framework at all. It’s—and I say this without irony—a freaking delight to listen to. It’s full of stories; for example, in the titular track, the instruments seem to be vying for first place until this looming bass note kicks in, threatening to take them all down. The titles themselves kickstart the imagination: “Trust in Clocks,” “Memory Wound,” and “I Woke Up in the Forest” are some of my favorites. Composer Ryan “Son Lux” Lott and producer Thomas Bartlett took yMusic’s edict to make a chamber music record structured like a rock album to heart and, with the addition of amazing performances by the group, turned it into art. – Dacia Clay


American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Thrive on Routine (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: February 24, 2017

Thrive on Routine was an interesting choice of title for ACME’s 2017 release. Timo Andres’ programmatic string quartet that follows the potato-tending and Bach-playing morning routine of Charles Ives thus becomes the album’s centerpiece, and by relation the rest of the selections are colored by the idea of beauty arising from the mundane. Minimalist textures in Caleb Burhans’ “Jahrzeit” and John Luther Adams’ “In a Treeless Place, Only Snow” provide a sense of calm and even pacing, while a deliberate, almost “learned” style extends from Andres’ title track to Caroline Shaw’s “in manus tuas” and “Gustave Le Gray” for solo cello. – Geoffrey Larson


Iceland Symphony Orchestra: Recurrence (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: April 7, 2017

The massive, slow-moving sound sculptures of Iceland shimmer and sparkle in Recurrence, an album of ethereal orchestral works by five emerging and established Icelandic artists. Daníel Bjarnason leads the Iceland Symphony Orchestra through a luminous program ranging from Thurídur Jónsdóttir’s kaleidoscopic “Flow & Fusion,” to María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir’s oceanic “Aequora,” Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s icy and iridescent “Dreaming,” and more. Each piece on the album is a gorgeously abstracted soundscape in itself, showcasing the small Nordic island’s all but unparalleled explorations of texture, timbre, and immersive, atmospheric colors in music. – Maggie Molloy


PRISM Quartet with So Percussion and Partch: Color Theory (Naxos)
Release Date: April 14, 2017

Mixing colors takes on new meaning in Color Theory, an album blending the hues of four saxophones with an experimental percussion quartet and the microtonal musical instruments of Harry Partch. The PRISM Quartet teams up with So Percussion and the Partch ensemble to explore the full spectrum of color in music, from the deepest blues to the boldest reds, oranges, and yellows. Steven Mackey’s “Blue Notes & Other Clashes” mixes colors ranging from muted to magnificent through eight short movements culminating in a prismatic fantasy, while Ken Ueno’s “Future Lilacs” explores the shifting shades of the overtone series and Stratis Minakakis’s “Skiagrafies” paints a sonic canvas with color-changing harmonies. – Maggie Molloy


Amir ElSaffar: Not Two (New Amsterdam Records)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

In a year choked with disunity in nearly every part of our lives, trumpeter Amir ElSaffar’s jazzy pan-global album Not Two offers a welcome musical melting of borders. ElSaffar draws inspiration from different cultures and their instruments, primarily Western Asia and America, and declares that they “do not exist as separate entities ‘belonging’ to any people or place.” His humanism coupled with the skill of his collaborators results in an album that pulses with mystical jazz spells, thrills with august horns, and reminds us that music is egalitarian. Knowing that Not Two was recorded in one marathon 16-hour session is just the cherry on top of ElSaffar’s accomplishment.
Rachele Hales


Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond (Sono Luminus)
Release Date: June 16, 2017

LAPQ’s Beyond pushes the boundaries of what a percussion ensemble can do, with a healthy dose of ambient-leaning music combined with a smaller measure of perhaps slightly more familiar groove-based music that might seem more typical of percussion repertoire. With works by heavy-hitting composers Daníel Bjarnason, Christopher Cerrone, Anna Thorvalsdottir, Ellen Reid, and Andrew McIntosh paired with thoughtful and delicate execution, Beyond is a tour-de-force that stands at the leading edge of music for percussion. – Seth Tompkins


Third Coast Percussion: Book of Keyboards (New Focus Recordings)
Release Date: August 4, 2017

If classical music is a volcanic island, percussion ensembles are the lava and magma that makes the new land. They’re always on the edge, pushing out, making new sounds with new instruments. And that’s exactly what Third Coast Percussion is doing on Book of Keyboards. They’ve recorded two works by modernist composer Philippe Manoury—sometimes sounding like an elaborate wooden wind chime orchestra, and at other times leaving long, worshipful tensions between notes.

Some of the instruments used on this album are familiar enough—like marimbas and vibraphones—but I’m gonna bet you’ve never heard the sixxen, because they were invented by a guy named Iannis Xenakis (also an avant-garde composer) and homemade by Third Coast. I wonder if performing on instruments that you’ve made by hand is as exciting/terrifying as flying a kit plane that you’ve built in your garage? Third Coast never lets on, moving through these two works, “Le Livre des Clavier,” and “Metal,” like seasoned pilots flying in formation. – Dacia Clay


Qasim Naqvi: FILM (Published by Erased Tapes)
Release Date: September 29, 2017

Perhaps best known as the drummer from the group of acoustic virtuosos Dawn of Midi, Qasim Naqvi also plays other instruments and composes both art music and music for television and film. The album FILM, as you might guess, falls into the latter category. Released in September of 2017, FILM contains music written for the film Tripoli Cancelled and the video installation Two Meetings and a Funeral, both by Naeem Mohaiemen. This release, like other projects by Naqvi, celebrates the legacy of Moog synthesizers. The atmospheric sounds on this album were inspired by disused architecture, and sometimes recall the music of John Carpenter. – Seth Tompkins


Bang on a Can All-Stars: More Field Recordings (Cantaloupe Music)
Release Date: October 27, 2017

Some composers can make music out of just about anything—and that’s precisely the idea behind the Bang on a Can All-Stars’ More Field Recordings. A star-studded cast of composers are each asked to find a recording of something that already exists (a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody) and then write a new piece around it.

A follow-up to their original 2015 release Field Recordings, this year’s rendition is a colorful patchwork of found sounds and sonic squares from the likes of Caroline Shaw, Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Richard Reed Parry, and Glenn Kotche (to name just a few), with the All-Stars playing along to field recordings ranging from quilting interviews to Chilean birdsongs, lava fields, and snoring sleepers.
Maggie Molloy

2017 New Music Grammy Nominees

Extra! Extra! The 2017 Grammy nominees have been announced and we’re here to celebrate the discs that have been featured as our Album of the Week or in regular rotation on our 24/7 stream. Congratulations to all of the nominees!

2016 Second Inversion Albums of the Week

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Steve Reich — Third Coast Percussion (Cedille)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 15-19

51moxudgtlIn their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece. – Maggie Molloy

Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

Serious Business — Spektral Quartet (Sono Luminus)
Second Inversion Album of the Week February 8-12

dsl-92198-coverSpektral’s new album, titled “Serious Business,” is anything but serious. The album comprises four different perspectives on humor through the lens of classical music, featuring three new works by living composers and one classic from that late, great father of the string quartet, Joseph Haydn.

But don’t let the lighthearted humor fool you—these guys are no classical music newbies. Comprised of violinists Clara Lyon and Austin Wulliman, violist Doyle Armbrust, and cellist Russell Rolen, the Spektral Quartet performs music from across the classical music spectrum. The group is committed to creating connections across the centuries and providing a discourse between the traditional classical canon and the, well, not-so-traditional contemporary classical canon. – Maggie Molloy

Best Music Film

The Music Of Strangers — Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble (Sony)
Second Inversion Album of the Week July 25-29 (companion album to the film)

Sing Me HomeWe need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. – Maggie Molloy

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Real Enemies — Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (New Amsterdam)
Second Inversion’s Album of the Week October 10-14

a2976727568_16Whether you’re a conspiracy theory junkie or a sideline skeptic, even the most patriotic of us loves a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Whether it’s the Watergate scandal or the inner-workings of the Illuminati, alien sightings or the mysterious murder of JonBenét Ramsey, we just can’t help but turn up our ears when we hear a juicy top-secret scheme.

And since we’re already listening, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader Darcy James Argue decided to take our eavesdropping ears to the next level: his new album Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration into America’s unshakable fascination with conspiracy theories. Performed with his 18-piece big band Secret Society and released on New Amsterdam Records, the album traverses the full range of postwar paranoia, from the Red Scare to the surveillance state, mind control to fake moon landings, COINTELPRO to the CIA-contra cocaine trafficking ring—and everything in between. – Maggie Molloy


2016 albums in rotation on Second Inversion’s 24/7 stream

Best Surround Sound Album & Best Engineered Album, Classical

Dutilleux: Sur La Mêe Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) (Seattle Symphony Media)

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Best Contemporary Classical Composition

Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) (VBI Classic Recordings)

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Reich at 80: A Second Inversion Reichathon

We are celebrating Steve Reich’s 80th birthday in great style with a 24/7 streaming marathon of his music. Tune in all day!

We’re also paying tribute with reflections on these three ECM recordings, re-released in honor of the big 8-0.

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Two sonic worlds collide in Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians: the mechanical and the meditative. The piece layers the intimate, organic rhythm of the human breath above the hypnotic rhythmic pulse of pianos and mallet instruments, thus creating two different aural experiences of time—simultaneously.

Composed amidst the social revolution following the Vietnam War, Music for 18 Musicians spoke volumes about that period in American history: its driving rhythms and circling melodies suggested optimism, harmony, and progress. In fact, Reich included more harmonic movement in the first five minutes of this work than in any other composition of his to date.

He based the entire work on a cycle of eleven chords played at the very beginning of the piece, which are then stretched out across the entire 60 minutes to serve as a larger harmonic backdrop—effectively turning that eleven-chord cycle into a pulsing cantus for the entire piece.

Masterfully performed with his Grammy award-winning ensemble Steve Reich and Musicians, Reich arranged for each of these harmonic shifts to be cued audibly by the melodies of the metallophone (a vibraphone with no motor) rather than through a conductor. His reasoning? “Audible cues become part of the music and allow the musicians to keep listening.” – by Maggie Molloy

 

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The second disc of the ECM New Series anniversary set of Reich recordings features three works: the Music for a Large Ensemble of 1978, Violin Phase of 1967, and the Octet of 1979. A reissue of the label’s 1980 release, the polished sound of this recording is somewhat astounding. The performances are fantastic and un-conducted, performed by a crack team of chamber musicians that play with excellent pitch and execute the rapid, sparkling eighth note runs that drive this music with flawless technique. The composer himself performs on piano in Music for a Large Ensemble. Though occasionally balance can feel biased toward the endlessly jamming notes in the piano and mallet instruments to the detriment of female voices or long string chords, the sound of this recording is generally well rounded. These performances don’t at all have the feel of a premiere recording of music that is brand-new; instead it seems like we’re hearing accounts of works that have been performed many times and have already entered the canon of late-20th Century music, as Reich’s works now have. It may have been recorded in 1980, but this is an album fit for 2016 and beyond.

This part of ECM’s exploration offers us different perspectives of Reich’s instrumental works, both large and small. Shem Guibbory’s performance of Reich’s Violin Phase is placed between the two ensemble works, standing apart both in character and in compositional process. A recording of the violinist performing one phrase is repeated, with the same recording layered over itself first in perfect unison. The recordings are then shifted gradually so they play in an ever-changing canon, eventually adding a third recording of a countermelody that helps to spin the work into an almost symphonic concert piece. Rhythm alone drives the tension and release of this work, as we are occasionally frustrated by the chaos of the sound of the same phrase being played just slightly out of sync with itself, but find repose when the clatter locks into a cohesive rhythm. I love the way the stereo sound is mixed in this recording, such that we can feel the different Shems standing in a sort of semicircular ensemble in front of us.

The addition of voices to the mix of a wind and percussion instruments, as Reich does in Music for a Large Ensemble, is an interesting choice on multiple levels. First, it most explicitly characterizes this genre of Reich’s music as a result of the singing of the human voice, when in other Reich works, the constant bouncing of the eighth note runs can make it feel mechanical and, well, un-singable. This quick figuration often disguises the more vocal qualities of his instrumental works like the Octet, which features long lines in the string instruments, and in some works Reich makes a point to use brass and woodwinds to play a recurring chordal figure that can only be played in one breath. The human breath is then more of a measure of time in Reich’s music than the bar, that tyrannical measure of music that organizes everything into groups of four beats (or less often in Reich’s music, three, five, six, etc.). Thus, the use of voices and trumpets in Music for a Large Ensemble not only adds interesting timbres of sound, it changes our perception of units of time. The juxtaposition of these fast and slow elements happening simultaneously (and often in canon within themselves), shows Reich firing on all cylinders.

These effects that work so well in Music for a Large Ensemble are accomplished on a slightly more intimate level in the Octet “Eight Lines,” where two pianos are the only instruments of percussion used, joined by two flutes, two clarinets, and four strings. Like an intricate painting that reveals stunning detail when viewed very close but grandiose images when viewed from far away, Steve Reich’s music offers different levels of experience when listened to in different ways. A gradual zooming-out seems to take place over the course of the Octet, with the long line in the strings that starts with a single chord transforming into a long, flowing melody by the end, threatening to overwhelm the eighth note motor of the pianos and woodwinds.

All three performances have a sparkling joy to them which, beyond showing a technical mastery of the many elements of these works that are difficult to accomplish in precisely the same way throughout, show off groups of musicians that act as fantastic advocates for Reich’s music. In a way, the fact that so much of this music could be performed well by computers in all their unfailing precision is dangerous, because it is this element of joy that is the crucial end goal of all those notes and repeating figures, an element of distinctly human touch. It makes the artistry of these Reich recordings all the more valuable. – Geoffrey Larson

 

tehillim1In celebration of Steve Reich’s 80th birthday, I am delighted to be writing about the re-release of the fantastic 1981 ECM recording of Tehillim. This is a superb recording of a fascinating piece. This performance (which includes the composer as a player) is practically perfect, showcasing the beautifully clean, warm, and streamlined sound of Reich’s music. Furthermore, the intricately economical construction of this piece, which reveals more layers of internal connection the more deeply one delves into it, makes these two tracks an excellent way to spend 30 minutes.

In Reich’s own words, Tehillim can be seen as both “traditional and new at the same time.” This pleasing dichotomy, referring to both Reich’s own traditions and those of Western Art Music as a whole, runs throughout the piece. Tehillim is Steve Reich’s first explicit musical foray into his Jewish heritage. Reich began studying Jewish cantillation in 1976, and traveled to Israel the following year; these experiences would contribute to the eventual composition of Tehillim in 1981. In total, even though this piece diverges from many of Reich’s typical practices, Tehillim still has the balance of energetic and meditative elements that makes all of Reich’s music so appealing. Additionally, Tehillim is remarkable in the tightness and efficiency of its construction; many elements of this piece interlock and relate to one another in a manner that is extremely pleasing in its economical nature.

The balance between old and new in Tehillim is in large part connected to Reich’s choice of source text. The word “Tehillim” is the Hebrew word for Psalms; it from that book of the bible that the text for this piece comes. In making this choice, Reich gave himself space in which to create; in almost all modern versions of Judaism, the traditional of singing the Psalms has been lost. This allowed Reich to select source text that was not loaded with accompanying musical baggage.

Getting into the actual music of Tehillim, many elements of Tehillim center on the source text. The instrumentation, musical patterns, and harmonic movements all have roots in the Psalms. Psalm 150, an excerpt of which forms the text for the final part of Tehillim, even provides basic instructions for instrumentation! It mentions drums, strings, winds, and multiple types of cymbals as instruments with which to execute praise, and all of those instruments are represented in the piece. Reich’s inclusion of clapping and maracas also have roots in the music of the Biblical period.

The rhythmic patterns in Tehillim are significantly different from minimalism for which Reich is best known. Instead of the short repeating patterns seen in piece like Music for 18 Musicians, the rhythms in in Tehillim stem from the rhythms of the text itself; Reich would later use this technique in pieces including The Cave (1993) and Different Trains (1998). So, instead of the “traditional” repeated short rhythms expected in Reich’s music, he achieves continuity with four-part canons, “functional” harmony, and imitative counterpoint, techniques which are more closely associated with more traditional Western Art Music than with Reich’s music.

Although those traditional techniques come from the Common Practice period of Western Art Music, there are other influences here, too, that contribute to the juxtaposition of old and new in Tehillim. In addition to the biblically-inspired instrumentation, the vocal parts are sung without vibrato, harkening back to ancient singing styles. Additionally, the rhythmic action that underpins most of the work has the complex interlocking structures that, while common in much of Reich’s music, do not come from any Western tradition.

Despite all of the intricately crafted and tightly interrelated elements of this piece that apparently diverge from Reich’s standard techniques, Tehillim still sounds like Steve Reich. While not repetitive, the rhythms here still have an energetic constancy that recalls Reich’s other work. The non-vibrato vocal parts also sound like Reich; the same technique is present in Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ and Music for 18 Musicians. Also, in Tehillim, as in Music for 18 Musicians, the voices are used as instrumental colors, although since there is text Tehillim, the voices do more than just add color. However, Reich does not seem to draw a distinct line between these two functions of the voice in Tehillim; the voices enunciate the text in repeating phrases, then extend the final sounds of those segments to blend back into the ensemble color, returning to more purely instrumental vocal sounds of Music for 18 Musicians. So, while the four-part canons and (gasp!) functional harmony may not be expected, Tehillim is clearly still classic Reich.

Overall, the effect of this piece is one of meditation followed by joy. The instrumentation, although strongly tied to the Psalm 150 text, provides a comforting sense of intimacy when combined with Reich’s supremely effective orchestration. This is perhaps a reflection of the meditative and self-searching origins of the piece.

Like many larger-scale works of minimalism, the feeling at the end of this piece is one of a coming ecstasy. It is the building knowledge that a tremendously positive event is imminent, and that the event will be overwhelming but also at least partially unknowable. In the case of a work focused on exploration of religion, this feeling might be better described as the sense of approaching a great mystery: one which will be joyful and significant, even though it remains eternally enigmatic. – by Seth Tompkins


And for some more memories down Steve Reich lane, here are some of our past features on his music:

Third Coast Percussion Album Review

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New Music Apps, including Steve Reich’s Clapping Music

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Videos produced by Second Inversion:

And a bonus tribute from community member Michael Schell:

Steve Reich at 80

A triumvirate of composers — Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass — has come to epitomize minimalism as it coalesced in New York in the 1960s. Of the three, Riley can claim precedence (his In C got the ball rolling in 1964), and Glass can claim the most commercial success. But I think it’s Reich who earns the most admiration from other composers, perhaps by a wide margin. It’s not just because his music is sophisticated and groundbreaking, but also because it has a kind of integrity that reflects the rigor and commitment to exploration that Reich has always brought to his creative process (and indeed to his life). Consider the range of Reich’s early experiments:

  • Tape pieces where he layers short loops of recorded speech until they become melodic (Come Out)
  • Live electronic music (Pendulum Music)
  • “Phase” pieces for a solo instrument playing in and out of sync with its prerecorded copy
  • The piece Four Organs, unique even in Reich’s output, basically a 20-minute rhythmic elaboration of a single E11 chord

It wasn’t until after he went to Ghana in 1970 to study Ewe drumming that Reich’s most recognizable style took shape: percussion-centric ensembles playing highly contrapuntal music built from short, repeated, syncopated phrases. This is the sound world of his most famous works (like Music for 18 Musicians) and there was every opportunity to cash in and churn out piece after piece using the same formula. But instead Reich kept moving forward, trying out atonal harmonies in The Desert Music, digital sampling in Different Trains and intermedia in The Cave, always meticulously crafting the finished product to his highly self-critical standards.

At 80, Reich has seen his compositions recorded, discussed and analyzed many times over (well, except for Come Out, which lacks a conventional score, though I have a go at transcribing one here). And nowadays it’s easy for composers to write music that sounds like Reich. But it’s the integrity behind Reich’s work that I think will most powerfully define his legacy and keep it relevant for generations to come. – Michael Schell

 

New Music: There’s an App for That!

by Maggie Molloy

New Music AppsThe average American spends nearly five hours a day on their smartphone. That’s about a third of their waking life.

What could we possibly be doing for all that time? Well, usually we’re just wasting it—we’re scrolling through our Facebook feed to pass the time on a long bus ride, Snapchatting our friends from across the room during a TV commercial break, Instagramming our afternoon coffee, or checking for new matches on Tinder.

So much time wasted swiping left, right, upside down, right-side up—which is why I figure if we’re going to spend hours on our phone each day, we should at least make it worth our while. Why not spend that time improving our rhythm, enhancing our musical knowledge, exploring new music, or listening to some of the greatest artists and thinkers of our time?

Next time you find yourself stuck on a long bus ride, bored during a commercial break, or sitting alone in a crowded café sipping your coffee, turn off your social media and engage with these new music apps:

Second Inversion App

Okay, so this one’s an obvious pick—but here’s why: our app gives you on-the-go access to our carefully-curated 24/7 live stream, expansive video archive, on-demand concert recordings, new music event calendar, Joshua Roman blog posts, album reviews, and much more. You can also create a “Favorites List” of pieces you hear on the stream, or even set a custom alarm clock so that you can start each day with the latest in contemporary classical!

SI AppAnd rest assured, there are no commercials, no top 40, no corny talk radio—just 24/7 new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?

John Cage Apps

The 20th century composer and iconoclast John Cage is most famous for two main contributions to the classical canon: 1) his “silent” composition, titled 4’33”, and 2) his prepared piano pieces. The John Cage Trust has created apps out of both.

John Cage 4'33"Cage’s three-movement 4’33″ is perhaps his most famous composition, teaching audiences that there is really no such thing as “silence,” but rather, the sound of the world around us is music in and of itself. In the app, you can capture your own three-movement performance of the ambient sounds in your environment, then upload and share that performance with the world. You can also listen to others’ performances, and explore a worldwide map of ever-growing performance locations. But here’s the coolest (read: geekiest) part: the app features a recording of the ambient sounds at play in Cage’s last New York apartment, which he found a source of constant surprise, inspiration, and delight.

John Cage Prepared Piano

Cage threw a wrench in the Western classical tradition (literally) when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. By placing everyday objects such as screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber between the strings of a grand piano, he created an entire percussion orchestra within a single instrument. Now, you can create your own entire percussion orchestra—within a single smartphone. Choose from dozens of sampled sounds of a piano prepared with the actual materials used by John Cage in the preparations for his Sonatas and Interludes, then record your performance and share it with the world!

bitKlavier Prepared Digital Piano App

Composer and electronic musician Dan Trueman gave the original 20th century prepared piano a 21st century facelift last year when he created the prepared digital piano. Instead of bolts and screws stuck between the piano strings, virtual machines adorn the virtual strings—transforming the piano into an instrument that pushes back, sometimes like a metronome, other times like a reverse delay. The virtual strings also tighten and loosen on the fly, tuning in response to what is played. And in true 21st century fashion, you can download the prepared digital piano as an app, plug it into your MIDI keyboard, and create your own compositions.
bitKlavier

Third Coast Percussion Apps

John Cage Quartet AppPercussionists are on their game when it comes to new music apps. Third Coast Percussion actually has three: John Cage Quartet, the Music of Steve Reich, and Resounding Earth.

The John Cage app is based on his 1935 Quartet, which is scored for “any four instruments or sounds.” With this app, you can choose from a variety of pre-recorded sounds or record your own sounds to create a custom version of the piece!

The Steve Reich app allows you to create your own music using compositional techniques made famous by this minimalist composer, including phasing, additive processes, and canons. You can even record and sample your own sounds to make it truly your own!

Steve Reich App

Resounding Earth is the title of a 2012 composition written by composer Augusta Read Thomas for Third Coast Percussion. In the piece, the group performs on over 125 bells from all over the world. This app allows you to explore the incredible sounds and history of many of the bells featured in the composition, enriching your own knowledge of percussion practices around the world!

Resounding Earth

Unsilent Night App

Unsilent NightPhil Kline’s Unsilent Night is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December—but you and your friends can perform it anytime of year (as long as you have smartphones). Participants each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Gather up as many friends as you can around a pile of boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers, and instruct everyone to hit “play” at the same time. Then walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture filled with shimmering bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies.

Steve Reich Clapping Music App

In 1972, minimalist composer Steve Reich composed a piece using very minimal musical means: just two people, clapping. Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty difficult: two people clap the same short rhythmic pattern, with one repeatedly shifting their pattern by a beat until the two patterns align again. This app allows you to test your own rhythm by tapping in time with Reich’s constantly shifting pattern, gradually progressing through all of the variations.

Steve Reich Clapping MusicChoose from “easy,” “medium,” “hard,” or “practice” modes to up your rhythm game—if you achieve a high score, you can enter into a competition for the chance to perform the work live. And, you can also take part in a research project which investigates how people learn rhythm.

PhonoPaper App

Okay, so this one is about 30 percent Russian spy cryptology but 100 percent awesome nonetheless. The idea was inspired by old Soviet technology that uses visual codes for sound synthesis. Here’s how it works: PhonoPaper is essentially a graphical representation of sound (this can be music, a human voice, etc.); in other words, it is the two-dimensional audio barcode of the sound.

PhonoPaper

This app allows you to 1) generate your own PhonoPaper by converting a recorded sound into image, and 2) use your phone camera as a real-time PhonoPaper-code reader, to convert the image back into sound. How cool is that? You can even use the code reader to convert graphical representations of musical scores back into music—check out their site for some examples using pieces by Bach, Mozart, Lully, and more!

So whether you’re secret coding your latest symphony, clapping through a Steve Reich simulator, or just kicking back and listening to the Second Inversion stream, there’s so much music to be heard! Why waste time on social media when you have all these incredible new music apps at your fingertips?

ALBUM REVIEW: Third Coast Percussion | Steve Reich

by Maggie Molloy

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Minimalist composer Steve Reich is best known for his experiments into “phase music”—that is, music which features two (or more) musicians playing identical lines of music, synchronously at first, but gradually shifting out of unison with one another. As the cycle slowly unfolds, new melodies are created by the ever-changing aural interactions of the two identical lines of music.

But just like his phase music, Reich never repeated the same thing exactly twice—in fact, over the past five decades he has built an extraordinary compositional career by maximizing very minimal melodic content. That’s because his compositions are music of process, and his melodies are created through use of repetitive figures, slow harmonic rhythm and canons, perpetual cycles, and, of course, unwavering originality.

With his explorations into rhythm and articulation, Reich redefined the melodic possibilities of percussion instruments in particular—which is why Third Coast Percussion decided to pay tribute to the minimalist mastermind in their latest album, titled “Steve Reich.”

Third Coast Percussion

Comprised of percussionists David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors, Third Coast Percussion is committed to exploring and expanding the vast sonic possibilities of the percussion repertoire—and there is plenty to explore in Reich’s work alone.

In their new album, the quartet surveys the composer’s works for percussion over a four-decade span, beginning with the most recent: his three-movement Mallet Quartet. Composed in 2009, the work is scored for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas. Third Coast Percussion twirls effortlessly through the circling motives and interlocking canons of the two outer movements, transitioning seamlessly both in and out of the central slow movement. A stark musical contrast between the thinly textured, almost transparent middle movement against the persistent pulse of the outer two brings color and narrative to the piece.

What follows is a performance of Reich’s 1985 Sextet featuring pianists David Friend and Oliver Hagen. Scored for three marimbas, two vibraphones, two bass drums, crotales, sticks, tam-tam, two pianos, and two synthesizers, it’s safe to say it’s not your average percussion lineup. And yet, Third Coast and company succeed in creating a sonically cohesive narrative, each instrument carefully balanced against the rest of the group. Over the course the piece’s five continuous movements, repeating melodic motives and chord cycles form expansive, gradually evolving musical textures—and the musicians glide through these timbral changes with the utmost sensitivity and precision.

Peter Martin and Sean Connors perform the next duet on the album: the virtuosic “Nagoya Marimbas.”  Composed in 1994, the piece harkens back to some of Reich’s earlier explorations into phase music, though in this work the repeating patterns are more melodically developed and change more frequently. Martin and Connors delicately shape and shade each pattern with artistry and finesse—making this deceptively buoyant piece sound deceptively easy.

The album comes to a close with a performance of Reich’s 1973 composition “Music for Pieces of Wood” featuring percussionist Matthew Duvall. Scored for just five pieces of wood tuned to specific pitches, the work reminds us of the primeval nature of percussion—and the vast possibilities for music with even the simplest of instruments. Of course, it also allows Third Coast an opportunity to showcase their incredible rhythmic precision and skill without timbral or textural distractions. The piece is an entire kaleidoscope of sound, a pointillist painting of constantly shifting musical patterns.

Because if there’s one thing Reich has taught us, it’s that a little musical material can take you a very, very long way. And if there’s one thing Third Coast Percussion has taught us with this album, it’s that Reich’s music is so much more than just a phase.

Steve_Reich_photo_credit_Jeffrey_Herman

NEW VIDEO: Third Coast Percussion and Joshua Roman

We took our video crew on the road to Town Hall, Seattle for a video session with Third Coast Percussion & Joshua Roman on January 11, 2015.

Be sure to check out all of our other videos, too!